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Starved for Sleep? Watch Your Waistline
Date:3/16/2008

men slept only four hours for two nights. The study found that levels of leptin, a hormone that tells the brain it's time to stop eating because the stomach is full, decreased by 18 percent during the two-day study period. Levels of another hormone, ghrelin, which turns the hunger mechanism on, increased by 28 percent.

On average, the men reported that their hunger pangs increased by 24 percent.

"Hormones change with sleep loss and deprivation," said Strollo. "Sleep deprivation can affect appetite and also the type of food that one desires. When you're sleep-deprived, you generally don't crave carrot sticks."

May agreed, adding, "When you're tired, you're less resilient to stress and other common emotional triggers for eating. When you eat to help you cope with emotions, you're more likely to choose comfort foods like chocolate, ice cream or chips. And, since eating only helps temporarily, you may find yourself reaching for food again and again to try to make yourself feel better.

"Getting enough sleep is the best way to prevent sleep deprivation from contributing to weight gain," May advised. "When you aren't able to get your Zzzs, pay more attention to how much you eat and how you handle fatigue and stress. A short walk will be a better energy boost than a trip to the candy machine."

Strollo said that while most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, there are some people who need as many as 10 and others who may do well on just five hours.

The best way to figure out how much sleep you need, he said, is to take a long vacation and after a couple of days of catching up on your sleep debt, see how many hours of sleep you need to wake without an alarm clock. Since many Americans don't take long vacations, if you feel that you're not fully functional all day, or that you're doing things to stay awake, like a double-espresso shot, you're probably not getting enough sleep, he
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